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1264), and others in Percy's Reliques, in Ritson's Ancient Songs, and in the collection lately printed by the Camden Society, entitled 'The Political Songs of England, from the Reign of John to that of Edward II., edited and translated by Thomas Wright, Esq.,' 4to., Lond. 1839.
EARLY ENGLISH METRICAL ROMANCES.
From the thirteenth century also we are probably to date the origin or earliest composition of English metrical romances; at least, none have descended to the present day which seem to have a claim to any higher antiquity. There is no absolutely conclusive evidence that all our old metrical romances are translations from the French: the French original cannot in every case be produced; but it is at least extremely doubtful if any such work was ever composed in English except upon the foundation of a similar French work. It is no objection that the subjects of most of these poems are not French or continental, but British-that the stories of some of them are purely English or Saxon; this, as has been shown, was the case with the early northern French poetry generally, from whatever cause, whether simply in consequence of the connexion of Normandy with this country from the time of the Conquest, or partly from the earlier intercourse of the Normans with their neighbours the people of Armorica, or Bretagne, whose legends and traditions, which were common to them with their kindred the Welsh, have unquestionably served as the fountain-head to the most copious of all the streams of romantic fiction. French, as we have seen, was the only language of popular literature in England for some ages after the Conquest; if
even a Saxon legend, therefore, was to be turned into a romance, it was in French that the poem would at that period be written. It is possible, indeed, that some legends might have escaped the French trouveurs, to be discovered and taken up at a later date by the English minstrels; but this is not likely to have happened with any that were at all popular or generally known; and of this description, it is believed, are all those, without any exception, upon which our existing early English metrical romances are founded. The subjects of these compositions - Tristrem, King Horn, Havelok, &c. could hardly have been missed by the French poets in the long period during which they had the whole field to themselves: we have the most conclusive evidence with regard to some of the legends in question that they were well known at an early date to the writers in that language—the story of Havelok, for instance, is in Gaimar's Chronicle upon this general consideration alone, therefore, which is at least not contradicted by either the internal or historical evidence in any particular case, it seems reasonable to infer that, where we have both an English and a French metrical romance upon the same subject, the French is the earlier of the two, and the original of the other. From this it is, in the circumstances, scarcely a step to the conclusion come to by Tyrwhitt, who has intimated his belief "that we have no English romance prior to the age of Chaucer which is not a translation or imitation of some earlier French romance.' Certainly, if this judgment has not been absolutely demonstrated, it has not been refuted by the more extended investigation the question has since received.
* Essay on Language of Chaucer, note 55.
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The first account, in any detail, of our early English metrical romances was given by Percy, in the third volume of his 'Reliques of Ancient English Poetry,' first published in 1765. In this Essay, of twenty-four pages (extended to thirty-eight in the fourth edition of the work, 1794), he gave a list of thirty of these poems, to which, in subsequent editions, he added nine more. Then came the first volume of Warton's History of English Poetry,' in 1774, with a much more discursive examination at least of parts of the subject, and ample specimens of several romances. Tyrwhitt's edition of the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer followed the next year, with many valuable notices on this as well as other matters belonging to our early literature in the admirable preliminary Essay on the Language and Versification of his author, which is in fact a history of the language down to the end of the fourteenth century. In 1792 Pinkerton inserted the Scotch metrical romance of 'Gawan and Galogras,' from an Edinburgh edition of 1508, in his collection of Scotish Poems, reprinted from scarce editions,' 3 vols. 8vo., Lond. ; and he also gave in his last volume, as one of "three pieces before unpublished," that of Sir Gawan and Sir Galaron of Galloway;' which was copied into Sibbald's Chronicle of Scottish Poetry' (i., pp. xv. &c.), 4 vols. 8vo., Edinb. 1802. In 1798 appeared Roberte the Deuyll, a metrical Romance, from an ancient illuminated MS.'
(8vo., Lond.), 'printed for I. Herbert;' whose name is also at the end of a short prefatory advertisement, in which it is stated that the MS. agreed, word for word, with a remaining fragment of an edition of the poem which appears to have been printed early in the sixteenth century by Wynken de Worde, or Pynson. The volume nas a number of engravings, which are very curious, and seem to be fac-similes of the illuminations in the MS. In 1802 Ritson published at London his 3 vols. 8vo. of 'Ancient Engleish Metrical Romanceés,' containing, besides his Dissertation on Romance and Minstrelsy,' which fills 220 pages of the first volume, the romances, in their entire length, of 'Ywaine and Gawin' (4032 lines); of Launfal,' or 'Launfal Miles,' a translation from the French of Marie by Thomas Chestre in the reign of Henry VI. (1044 lines); of 'Lybeaus Disconus,' that is, Le Beau Desconnu, or The Fair Unknown, sometimes called Lybius Disconius (2130 lines); of 'The Geste of Kyng Horn' (1546 lines); of 'The Kyng of Tars and the Soudan of Dammas' (1148 lines); of 'Emare' (1035 lines); of 'Sir Orpheo' (510 lines); of The Chronicle of Engleland' (1036 lines); of 'Le Bone Florence of Rome' (2189 lines); of 'The Erle of Tolous' (1218 lines); of The Squyr of Lowe Degre' (1132 lines); and of 'The Knight of Curtesy and the Fair Lady of Fagnell' (500 lines): together with 133 pages of Notes, including the imperfect romance of 'Horn Childe and Maiden Rimnild' (about 1150 lines), from the Auchinleck MS. in the Advocates' Library at Edinburgh the whole being followed by a Glossary, filling about 80 pages; in commendation of which, however, very little can be said. With the exception of
'The Squyr of Lowe Degre,' and 'The Knight of Curtesy,' which are from rare black-letter copies of the sixteenth century, all the pieces in this collection of Ritson's are transcribed from manuscripts, most of them unique. A more successful attempt, however, to diffuse a knowledge of this portion of our ancient poetical literature was made by Mr. George Ellis, in his 'Specimens of Early English Metrical Romances,' 3 vols. 8vo., first published in 1805. Besides an Historical Introduction on the Rise and Progress of Romantic Composition in France and England'-followed by an Analysis (by Mr. Douce) of the MS. work of Petrus Alphonsus, entitled 'De Clericali Disciplina,' and an account, amounting almost to a complete translation, of the twelve Lays of Marie of France-this work, of which a second edition appeared n 1811, contained extended analytical reviews of the romances of Merlin, Morte Arthur, Guy of Warwick, Sir Bevis of Hamptoun, Richard Cœur de Lion, Roland and Ferragus, Sir Otuel, Sir Ferumbras, The History of the Seven Wise Masters, Florence and Blauncheflour, Robert of Cysille, Sir Isumbras, Sir Triamour, The Life of Ipomydon, Sir Eglamour of Artois, Lai le Fraine, Sir Eger, Sir Grahame, and Sir Graysteel, Sir Degore, Roswal and Lillian, and Amys and Amylion. Most of these romances may be considered of later date than those published by Ritson: Mr. Ellis, indeed, on his title-page describes them as chiefly written during the early part of the fourteenth century." Meanwhile, in 1804, Walter Scott had published at Edinburgh, in royal 8vo., the romance of Tristrem,' from the Auchinleck MS., describing it on his title-page as a work of the thirteenth century, written in Scotland, by Thomas of Ercildoune,